Monday, February 7, 2011

Pack Where They Belong

Pittsburgh Steelers 25-31 Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers hoists the Vince Lombardi Trophy

Another year, another epic Super Bowl. Last night, or in my case earlier this morning, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV in Cowboys Stadium to capture their 4th Super Bowl title.
Green Bay jumped out to an early lead and were up 21-3 at one stage in the 2nd quarter. Pittsburgh would rally back but ultimately fall short. Turnovers were the difference maker as the Pack won the turnover battle 4-0 and scored 21 points from Steelers' turnovers.

Steelers' huddle
Nick Collins Pick Six
In the widely discussed quarterback matchup, Aaron Rodgers had the better day he completed 24 of his 39 attempts for 304 yards, 3 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Ben Roethlisberger, playing in his third Super Bowl, went 25-for-40 for 263 yards and 2 touchdowns but he also threw two interceptions. The first came in the 1st quarter when under pressure, Big Ben forced a throw downfield only to be picked off by Nick Collins who then returned it 37 yards for a Green Bay touchdown. That touchdown came immediately after another Packers touchdown, a 29 yard Rodgers to Jordy Nelson hookup for six. The second INT was thrown in the 2nd quarter when the Steelers, down 14-3, were driving the field looking like they were right back in it. Then on a 2nd and 11 from the Green Bay 49 yard line, Jarrett Bush intercepted a pass intended for Mike Wallace. The Packers capitalized on the mistake and would score a touchdown on the ensuing drive. Aaron Rodgers connected with Greg Jennings on an incredible throw and just like that Green Bay was up 21-3. The Steelers responded with a touchdown of their own, 8-yard touchdown reception by Hines Ward, to cut the deficit to 21-10 at the break.

Mendenhall fumble
The Steelers started the 2nd half brightly and less than 5 minutes into the 3rd quarter, Rashard Mendenhall rammed his way into the end zone from 8 yards out. At this stage, all the momentum was with the Steelers and for the whole 3rd quarter, they looked like they would take the lead for the first time in the game. However, the score remained 21-17 at the end of the quarter. Then, on the first play of the 4th quarter, Clay Matthews turned the momentum with a textbook hit on Rashard Mendenhall to force the ball loose. The Pack recovered the fumble and eight plays later, Rodgers found Greg Jennings in the corner of the end zone on an 8-yard pass to put the Packers up by 11.
Greg Jennings Touchdown
Pittsburgh showed perseverance and on their next drive, Ben Roethlisberger lobbed a perfect pass to Mike Wallace along the sidelines for a 25-yard touchdown. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin then opted to go for a two point conversion. They ran an option play, rarely used in the NFL, and Roethlisberger pitched it out to Antwaan Randle El who would run in for the score to make it a field goal game. The Packers would then drive from their own 25 yard line to Pittsburgh's 5. They were unable to score a touchdown from there but Mason Crosby added a field goal to give Green Bay a 31-25 lead with just over 2 minutes left. A touchdown would have sealed the game but the field goal did mean that the Steelers would have to score a touchdown.

Gatorade shower for coach Mike McCarthy
With 2 minutes left on the clock in the 4th quarter, Roethlisberger took the field hoping for a repeat of Super Bowl XLIII when he drove the field and threw a game winning touchdown to Santonio Holmes against the Arizona Cardinals. I had talked about this situation all week and how Roethlisberger is the guy you want under center in these situations. The drive began at the 13-yard line. Hines Ward picked up 15 yards, followed by a 5 gain by Heath Miller to bring the Steelers to their own 33-yard line. Two incompletions later and the Steelers were facing a 4 and 5. Roethlisberger dropped back in the pocket and then threw a high bullet to Mike Wallace who was unable to hang on to it. No flags. Game over!

Super Bowl XLV MVP Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers was awarded MVP for his excellent performance. He has certainly proved those who passed over him in the 2005 Draft and made Packers fans forget about Brett Favre. Jordy Nelson also had a big day despite a few drops. He caught 9 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown. The game had a rating of 47.9, earning a tie for the highest rated championship in NFL history with Super Bowl XXI. Roger Goodell has just announced that it was the most watched show in TV history. What a great way to end a great season with a win that epitomized the Packers' season. Now, attention turns to the collective bargaining agreement . Then we have free agency. Next up its the draft. Minicamps and training camps to follow after that. As soon as you know, barring the potential lockout, NFL Sundays will be back.

Congratulations to the Super XLV Champion Green Bay Packers!

James Jones lost in a flurry of confetti
Say Cheese!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Bowl XLV Prediction

What team will be lifting the Vince Lombardi Trophy - Pittsburgh Steelers or Green Bay Packers?
It has been building up to this moment for a couple weeks now. This has been the first Super Bowl I have covered and I can't wait for it to begin in a matter of hours. Ever since the NFC and AFC Champions were crowned, I have previewed every aspect of Super Bowl XLV and now its time to give my prediction. Like most fans, I have always discussed and given my prediction for the big game but now I have to put it out there. I love underdogs and tonight the Pittsburgh Steelers, despite having the better regular season record, are the underdogs as the face the red hot Green Bay Packers. I can easily see it going either way and in the next hour or so I imagine that my mind is going to constantly sway in opposite directions but right now, I think Pittsburgh will be victorious in winning their 7th Super Bowl. The Steelers defense was the 2nd best defence in the regular season in terms of yards given up per game and the Packers was the 5th but I still think we will see a decent amount of points put up on the scoreboard. Both teams are so similar and for me it comes down to quarterback and I just have to look at Big Ben's record to decide who I would want to led my team in the big game. He is 10-2 in the playoffs and at 28 years of age he has already been to and won 2 Super Bowls. It promises to be a great game played in the world's most advanced sports stadium, Cowboys Stadium. No matter what the outcome is, all I can say for sure is ENJOY! Enjoy the game! Enjoy the halftime show! Enjoy the ads! Enjoy the moment!

Prediction - Pittsburgh Steelers 27-21 Green Bay Packers
MVP - Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Super Bowl XLV Defensive Back Head-to-Head

Another Troy Polamalu Interception
Troy Polamalu
Tonight's game will feature the past three Defensive Player of the Year winners(James Harrison, Charles Woodson and Troy Polamalu respectively). The past two are defensive backs so its no wonder people are saying both teams strongest position is their defensive backfields. In the Packers case, I find it hard to disagree with that statement and it might be the Steeler's second best unit behind their linebacking core.

Ryan Clark
Troy Polamalu leads by example at the strong safety position for Pittsburgh. Earlier in the week, he was named Defensive Player of the Year after a season in which he accumulated 7 interceptions(tied for 2nd most in the NFL) and 63 tackles. He was also named the Steelers MVP for the season. He isn't just an extremely athletic player, he can dish out big hits and its no surprise that he has been selected to 6 Pro Bowls in the 8 seasons he has been in the league. Speaking of hard hitters, Steelers free safety Ryan Clark is one of the most feared defenders in the game. He had 2 picks in the season and he led all Steelers defensive backs with 90 tackles. I think its fair to say that the safety combination of Polamalu and Clark is the best in the game, certainly in the top 3.

Ike Taylor
At corner, the Steelers have three talented players, Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden and William Gay. Taylor is the number 1 guy due in large part to his rare combination of size and speed. He is good shutdown corner so he doesn't get a lot of interceptions which means he can be overlooked at times. He has never had more than 3 interceptions in a season. This season, he recorded 2 INTs in addition to 66 tackles. Bryant McFadden had an impressive 81 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 2 sacks and 2 interceptions. William Gay had respectable numbers as the third choice with 48 tackles, 2 sacks and a forced fumble.

Tramon Williams
Charles Woodson
The Packers', unlike the Steelers, strength is in their cornerbacks not their safeties so I will start with the corners. In five seasons with the Pack, Charles Woodson has recorded 30 interceptions, nine of which he returned for touchdowns. He is the only defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy, an award given to college football's best player. He was also selected as the Defensive Player of the Year last season (2009). He had a disappointing season this year in the interception department, reeling in only 2 interceptions. He did contribute in other areas, though, with 2 sacks and career highs in tackles(92) and forced fumbles(5). Tramon Williams stepped up with 6 interceptions(the most on the Packers roster and tied for 5th most in the NFL), 57 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble enough for him to be voted to his first Pro Bowl. Undrafted rookie Sam Shields from Miami proved his doubters wrong with a great season as a nickel back. He had 29 tackles and 2 interception in his six starts. But it was his postseason play that made people take notice. In the NFC Championship game, Shields had two interceptions, a sack and a forced fumble, the only rookie in NFL history to do so in a playoff game. His biggest asset is his blazing speed that allows him to keep up with just about any wider receiver.

Nick Collins
Moving to safety now, lets look at free safety Nick Collins. Collins was selected to his third straight Pro Bowl after an impressive season in which he racked up 4 interceptions(tied for 19th most in the NFL) and 70 tackles. He lines up alongside strong safety Charlie Peprah. Peprah's fifth season in the NFL was by far his best as he accounted for 63 tackles and 2 interceptions.

Yet another tough decision. The Packers were 2nd in the NFL in interceptions with 24 compared to the Steelers whose 21 picks were tied for 5th best in the league. I'm going to go with the Packers and their great corners rather than the Steelers and their talented safeties.

I think the Green Bay Packers have the edge in the Defensive Backfield

Super Bowl XLV Linebacker Head-to-Head

James Harrison's 100 yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII
The Pittsburgh Steelers likely starting Linebackers:
OLB - James Harrison
ILB - Lawrence Timmons
ILB - James Farrior
OLB - LaMarr Woodley
LaMarr Woodley
James Harrison
The Steelers' linebacker core is packed with talent and is probably their strongest position. Pittsburgh led the NFL in sacks with 48 due in large part to the play of the linebackers. James Harrison, the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year, led the team in sacks(10.5). He also accumulated 100 tackles in the regular season. He is probably most well known for his 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII against the Steelers. It was the longest play in Super Bowl history. LaMarr Woodley is on the other side at outside linebacker. Woodley only had half as many tackles as Harrison. He recorded 50 tackles but was 2nd on the team with 10 sacks.

Lawrence Timmons
In the middle, Lawrence Timmons was a tackle machine. He amassed 135 tackles, the 8th most in the NFL in the 2010 regular season. He also contributed with 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions in just his 4th season in the league. He lines up alongside James Farrior. Farrior, a 36 year old veteran, accumulated 109 tackles and 6 sacks in his 14th season in the league. Backing up Timmons and Farrior is Larry Foote. Foote began his NFL career in Pittsburgh and would remain there until the 2009 season where he left to play in Detroit due to the increasing playing time of Timmons. However, Foote obviously missed winning so he returned to the Steelers in the offseason. He failed to make much of an impact because of limited game time but he is a very reliable player who can step up if a Steelers linebacker goes down.
The Green Bay Packers likely starting Linebackers:
OLB - Erik Walden or Frank Zombo
ILB - Desmond Bishop
ILB - A. J. Hawk
OLB - Clay Matthews

Clay Matthews
The Packers also have a terrific group of linebackers. They finished just behind Pittsburgh with 47 sacks, tied 2nd in the NFL for most sacks in the 2010 regular season. Clay Matthews III is the star of the linebacking core. He comes from a football family. His father, Clay Matthews Jr, played the third most games in NFL history (278) over 19 seasons as a linebacker for the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons. His uncle, Bruce Matthews, played for 19 years as an offensive lineman for the Houston Oilers/ Tennessee Titans. He played in an NFL record 14 consecutive Pro Bowls and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007. Both of Clay's brothers were All-Americans. The list goes on and on and its easy to see why Clay Matthews' nickname is "Bloodline". Matthews had a monstrous 2010 season. He finished 4th in the league in sacks with 13.5 and was narrowly beaten(17 votes to 15) by Troy Polamalu in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting. In his two seasons in the league, he was been  selected for two Pro Bowls. Erik Walden is the Packers other outside linebacker. He was signed by the Packers at the very end of October. his first big game in the Green and Gold came in Week 17 against the Chicago Bears when he led the team with 3 sacks and 16 tackles and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week. He will be a game-time decision and if he can't play, he will most likely be replaced by Frank Zombo.

A. J. Hawk, middle linebacker, led the team in tackles in the regular season. His 111 tackles just about eclipsed fellow middle linebacker Desmond Bishop's 103. Hawk only managed to get 0.5 sacks on the season. Bishop had 3 sacks. This versatile duo gives the Pack a strong interior defence.
As I said, both teams have so much talent at the linebacker position but this is actually quite an easy decision for me. The Steelers have 4 linebackers that would be stars on so many teams. I'm going with with "Blitzburgh" at linebacker.
I think the Pittsburgh Steelers have the edge at Linebacker

Friday, February 4, 2011

Super Bowl XLV Defensive Line Head-to-Head

Super Bowl XLV will be contested between two 3-4 defenses. If you don't know, a 3-4 defense consists of three defensive linemen and four linebackers. It has become the ideal defensive formation in the modern game as the NFL is becoming a pass first league and a 3-4 defense excels in pass coverage. There are some disadvantages mainly the fact that is very hard for three people to get past five offensive linesmen to get pressure on the quarterback.Personally, I love the 3-4 formation and this Sunday I cant wait to see it in action. The Steelers have been using the 3-4 formation as their base defense since 1982, the season after Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle Joe Greene and end L. C. Greenwood retired. The Packers, as you may remember, only switched to 3-4 a couple years ago.

The Pittsburgh Steelers likely starting Defensive Line:
DE - Ziggy Hood
DT- Casey Hampton
DE - Brett Keisel
Brett Keisel
Casey Hampton
Ziggy Hood
Pittsburgh allowed an average of 62.8 rushing yards per game in the regular season and a lot of credit for that has to be given to this defensive line. In the build up to the game it seems that only coverage the Steelers D-Line has been getting is related to Brett Kiesel's amazing beard but they deserve some kudos for their performance. I'll start with the man in the middle Casey Hampton. He's a 5 time Pro Bowler but when you look at his numbers, well they aren't great(20 tackles, 1 sack). However, numbers don't tell the whole story. Hampton has a reputation as being a disruptive force which sometimes isn't noticeable to the untrained eye but is of huge benefit to the Steelers. Ziggy Hood, who was drafted 32nd overall in 2009 out of Missouri, is yet to fulfill his potential but he has shown a lot progress and is a solid, reliable member of Pittsburgh's D-Line. Keisel, as mentioned above has been in the public eye because of his beard which he started to grow in the Summer while he was on a hunting trip with his father, was named to his first Pro Bowl this year which he was unable to play in. I have a feeling his beard was a factor in the votes he recieved but I can't take away from his performance this year and he led all Steelers D-Lineman with 33 tackles and tied with Ziggy Hood for sacks(3.0). 34 year old defensive end Aaron Smith has been sidelined since October with torn triceps is listed as questionable for the game.

The Green Bay Packers likely starting Defensive Line:
DE: Ryan Pickett
DT: BJ Raji
DE: Cullen Jenkins
BJ Raji
In 2009, Dom Capers was brought to Green Bay,Wisconsin to become the Defensive Coordinator. He brought with him the 3-4 defence he had used in Miami. BJ Raji was drafted with the 9th overall pick to fill the nose tackle spot. What a pick that had turned out to be. Raji has become just what Capers has envisioned. In this year's regular season, he was more productive than any other nose tackle in the league accumulating 39 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 3 passes defended. Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, Raji turned it up a notch in the playoffs. In the 4th quarter of the NFC Championship Game, he picked off Chicago Bears' third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown. It was Raji's first career interception and touchdown and it broke William Perry's NFL record for the heaviest player to score a touchdown in the postseason at 337 pounds. Speaking of William Perry, throughout the 2011 postseason the Raji was used as a fullback in the Pack's goal-line offense, which led to Raji nicknaming himself "The Freezer" in reference to William Perry's "The Fridge." Cullen Jenkins, defensive end, recorded an impressive 7 sacks in the regular season. Ryan Pickett only managed one sack but his 32 tackles were a good contribution.

The 3-4 defense requires very talented lineman. They need to be versatile and athletic(Raji has good burst for a 337 pound man) to be able to get into the opposition's backfield. All things considered, I believe the Green Bay Packers have to better D-Line. Their projected starting lineup for Sunday's game in Jerryworld had a combined 14.5 sacks in the regular season and that gives them the edge in my opinion.
I think the Green Bay Packers have the edge at D-Line

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Super Bowl XLV Offensive Line Head-to-Head

Every year it seems that a key player gets injured prior to the Super Bowl and becomes the talk of the media in the buildup to the big game. This year, that player is Maurkice Pouncey, center for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In his rookie season, Pouncey started all 16 games in the regular season and was selected to the Pro Bowl. He suffered an ankle injury during the first drive of the AFC Championship Game against the New York Jets. His status for this Sunday's game remains unclear. A week ago, Steelers guard Chris Kemoeatu said Pouncey wouldn't play. Today, Pouncey was without a walking boot or crutches. He is yet to resume training but he now considers himself likely to play. He is such a valuable piece on Pittsburgh's line and his presence would certainly be missed.

Maurkice Pouncey
The Steelers offensive line starters will be most likely be made up of:
LT - Jonathan Scott
LG - Chris Kemoeatu
C - Maurkice Pouncey or Doug Legursky
RG - Ramon Foster
RT - Flozell Adams
The Steelers O-Line ranked eighth last in the NFL in sacks allowed (43) in the regular season.

Chad Clifton
The Packers offensive line is anchored by Chad Clifton. Clifton has been selected to the Pro Bowl twice, in 2007 and 2010 seasons. He has a reputation around the NFL as one of the league's best blindside blockers. He is joined on the Packers O-Line by Bryan Bulaga. Bulaga was drafted 23rd overall out of Iowa in last April's Draft. He had an impressive rookie season for which he was named to the official NFL All-Rookie team.

The Packers offensive line starters will be most likely be:
LT - Chad Clifton
LG - Daryn Colledge
C - Scott Wells
RG - Josh Sitton
RT - Bryan Bulaga.
The Packers O-Line ranked eleventh last in the NFL in sacks allowed (38) in the regular season.

These two teams are old fashioned teams that believe that strong defenses and line play are the key to NFL success. That isn't entirely true. Don't get me wrong these teams have really good defenses but their offensive lines are suspect to say the least. So the question is : Which team has a slightly less mediocre O-Line? I think the answer to that question is the Pittsburgh Steelers

I think the Pittsburgh Steelers have the edge at O-Line

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Super Bowl XLV WR/TE Head-to-Head

There have been six wide receivers have been honored Super Bowl MVP. Three of them have been Steelers wideouts, Lynn Swann in Super Bowl X, Hines Ward in Super Bowl XL and Santonio Holmes in Super Bowl XLIII. With all the talent on the field at wide receiver this Sunday, that number could easily become seven.

Mike Wallace
In the offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers traded away their Super Bowl XLIII star Santonio Holmes after he had been suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy and had a lawsuit filed against for a nightclub incident in which he allegedly threw a glass at a woman. The trade was a result of the Steelers organization wanting to show they standards they require. The trade raised a lot of eyebrows regarding the future of star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who also had run ins with the law. However, Big Ben wasn't traded or released and the next big question on Steelers fan's minds was who would replace Holmes. It seems that Mike Wallace has been to one to do just that. Wallace caught 60 passes for 1257 yards(third most in the AFC) and 10 TDs in his second season. He led the league with seven 100 yard receiving games and led the AFC with 21.0 average yards per catch. His blazing speed makes him a threat to go the distance on any play and he also has great hands which were on display in his rookie season as he caught an incredible last second touchdown to beat the Packers 37-36.

Super Bowl XL MVP Hines Ward
Hines Ward, the Steelers longest tenured current player, isn't quite the same player that he was back in 2006 when he was awarded Super Bowl MVP. However, he is still just as feisty and physical. He leads by example and is the kind of guy you want on your team in big moments in big games. His 59 catches, 755 receiving yards and 5 receiving touchdowns were all second only to Mike Wallace on the Steelers. The offseason also saw the return of Antwaan Randle El. Randle El played a huge role in the that Super Bowl XL win over the Seattle Seahawks as he threw a touchdown pass on a trick play. Emmanuel Sanders is another receiver to look out for.

Heath Miller
Heath Miller is not only one of the best tight ends in the game but he is also an inspirational figure in the Steelers locker room and huddle as he was elected by his teammates to be offensive captain this season. For the record, in the regular season, he had 42 receptions for 512 yards. However when analyzing this guy all you need to do is watch Super Bowl XLIII again. He played an integral role offering Big Ben an option when he was under pressure from blitzing Cardinal defenders.

Greg Jennings
The Packers, in my opinion, may have the best set of wide receivers in the league. The star of this receiving core is Greg Jennings who had a career high 1,265 receiving yards to go along with 76 receptions that included 12 touchdowns. Jennings was also the leader in receiving yards(239) and receptions(17) in the playoffs. Look for him to be targeted early and often by Aaron Rodgers.

Lambeau Leap by Donald Driver
Jordy Nelson and James Jones
The Pack's strength at receiver though, is their depth. Rodgers has three other very talented wideouts he can throw to, Donald Driver(51 catches for 565 yards), James Jones(50 catches for 679 yards) and Jordy Nelson(45 catches for 582 yards). Driver is known around the league for his toughness and ability to catch passes in the middle of the field open to the big hits from safeties and linebackers. In 12 years in the NFL, all with the Packers, Driver has caught 698 passes making him the Packers all time leading receiver in catches. In the NFL combine, Jones recorded 22 bench presses of 225 pounds, tying the combine record for wide receivers. Nelson relies more on his speed and his a deep threat for the Green and Gold. Early in the season, the extremely talent tight end Jermichael Finley suffered a season ending knee injury forcing Andrew Quarless to fill his shoes.

This is another tough decision. The Steelers have two really good wide receivers in Mike Wallace and Hines Ward as well as an elite tight end in Heath Miller but the Packers have the depth so I'm going to say the Packers have the advantage in the receiving category.

I think the Green Bay Packers have the edge at Wide Receiver/Tight End